California Court Discusses Sanctions in Family Law Cases

Custody battles are often contentious, and parties can have strong reactions if a Judge issues a ruling they deem unfavorable. Merely because a Judge finds in one party’s favor does not mean that they harbor a bias, however, and parties that unjustly accuse a Judge of being partial to their opponent may be sanctioned. As demonstrated in a recent California ruling issued in a custody dispute, however, the California Family Code does not permit the Courts to sanction attorneys for the conduct of their clients. If you are embroiled in an argument over child custody, it is wise to meet with a skilled San Diego child custody lawyer to assess your options.

Background of the Case

It is reported that the mother and the father had a child in 2019. The mother then filed a petition seeking primary physical and joint custody of the child. During the hearing on the matter, the Judge expressed concern that the mother seemed to believe she was in control of custody and could determine when the father saw the child. The Judge granted an interim custody order to allow the mother to hire an attorney.

Allegedly, the mother then retained counsel and filed a motion to disqualify the Judge. The Judge warned her that her refusal to answer questions regarding visitation could lead to sanctions. The mother then submitted a proposed judgment. The father objected to the judgment on the grounds that it did not comply with the Judge’s previously entered order, and the Judge agreed, ruling in the father’s favor. The issue of sanctions arose again due to the mother’s continuous filing of late motions without notice. The Judge ultimately ordered sanctions against the mother and her attorney pursuant to California Family Code Section 271. The mother then appealed.

Sanctions in Family Court Cases

On appeal, the sanctions order was reversed. As to the sanctions imposed against the attorney, the Court clarified that Section 271 only allows Courts to impose sanctions on parties, not on their attorney, and as such, any sanctions awarded against a lawyer are improper.

The Court also found that the sanctions were improperly imposed with regard to the mother. Specifically, the Court noted that there is an issue as to whether Section 271 permits a court to order sua sponte sanctions. The Court declined to address that issue, however, noting that the conduct the Trial Court relied upon in issuing the sanctions, even when taken as a whole, did not warrant sanctions. Thus, the Court found that the Trial court abused its discretion in ordering sanctions.

Meet with a Skilled San Diego Family Law Attorney

Disputes over child custody can be emotionally charged, but parties that let their emotions get the best of them and engage in behavior that is inappropriate may be sanctioned. If you need assistance defining your parental rights, it is wise to meet with a lawyer. The skilled San Diego family law attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC can advise you of your rights and help you to pursue your desired outcome. We frequently represent people in child custody cases in San Diego and other cities in San Diego County. You can reach us through our online form or by calling us at 800-769-4748 to set up a conference.

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